Andre Ward hurts Sergey Kovalev with a powerful left hand. Photo: John Locher, AP

LONDON - The marking around Andre Ward's eyes and across his forehead had not even started to darken when his coach began talking him into a fight with a man five stone heavier and half a foot taller than him – Anthony Joshua.

The American had just beaten the fearsome Sergey Kovalev for the second time in seven months with a surprising and controversial eighth-round stoppage when referee Tony Weeks waved off the contest after a left uppercut to the Russian's belt had left him sagging against the ropes.

Their first clash had ended in a narrow points win for Ward so another disputed victory in Las Vegas at the weekend appeared to open the door for a trilogy fight. But Virgil Hunter, his long-time coach and mentor, was quite literally thinking much bigger.

As Hunter began to explain why his guy, the unified light-heavyweight champion, could topple London's golden boy, Ward picked up a towel and dabbed at his grazed face. “Man," he said with a grin. "He got me sweating."

Now, with bookmakers offering odds on Ward – arguably the world's No.1 pound-for-pound fighter – and AJ meeting in a little-and-large superfight, the Oakland resident has opened up on the situation.

The very mention of Joshua raises a wry smile from Ward, who is aware that any talk of The Big Man is now very valuable currency in the boxing world.

“Listen,” he says. “You always have to dream big. When you dream you're supposed to be crazy. That's the beauty of it, that's the beauty of boxing.”

So is talk of Joshua, then, nothing but a crazy dream?

“The thing is with me,” Ward continues. “I'm not here calling him out but I believe that when I sign a contract to fight someone, I believe I can beat anyone, regardless of size. Size has never mattered, just look at my career. I went up to fight Kovalev and won twice. Even at the Olympics, those guys seemed like giants to me.

“I've always had great success against taller, bigger guys because of my speed, stamina and positioning. I can also take a great shot, which a lot of people overlook. Put it this way, I'm pretty hard on the big man because of my style.”

Ward's coach, well-known for his low-key demeanour, was insistent that his man could outbox Joshua, who is the current incumbent of the IBF and WBA heavyweight titles thanks to a 19-0 career, during which all opponents have been vanquished inside the distance.

Ward, meanwhile, is known as one of the most savvy boxers on the planet. A master of distance who can also operate brilliantly on the inside. A fighter happy to combine the sport's so-called 'dark arts' with a pure, textbook skill set.

As such, Hunter is adamant there would be only one winner. Ward explains: “What you've got there is a coach who believes in his fighter. I've been with him since I was a kid, he has always thought big for us, that's why we are here. That's the essence of what we do.

“I have a lot of respect for Joshua, I don't want it to seem liked we are belittling him, but this is a coach who believes in his fighter and a fighter who believes in himself. I know it sounds crazy because I'm not even a big light-heavyweight but I've always had great success with bigger men because it's dangerous in there.

“Kovalev was bigger than me, stronger than me, so we took away the size difference.”

Any move up to heavyweight would bring back memories of his compatriot Roy Jones, who became the first former middleweight champion to win the heavyweight title in 106 years when he beat John Ruiz in 2003.

But Ruiz, who is in many ways under-appreciated, was never the biggest heavyweight and never considered a wrecking ball of Joshua's ilk.

“All I can say is this,” Ward says, pausing for effect. “If you're good enough you're big enough.”

The 33-year-old former super-middleweight champion, who moved to 32-0 as a result of Saturday's victory, has already beaten two Brits in Paul Smith and Carl Froch.

The latter always insisted he would beat Ward in a rematch after dropping a unanimous decision in their 2011 Atlantic City showdown. However, they never managed to agree on a return before Froch's retirement nearly three years ago.

There were suggestions back then that Ward, who has boxed in his home state of California for the vast majority of his career, could even be tempted over to the UK to face Froch.

A chance to box in England is still welcome for Ward, but not before a well-earned break.

“I pushed for that Froch rematch several times and it didn't work out,” he said. “But boxing in England? Yeah that's on the bucket list. I mean who wouldn't want to fight there? Fight in front of those fans who love the sport or in that sacred ground like Wembley Stadium. It's a dream of mine.

“If the right situation comes around we will address it of course, whether or not that's Joshua I don't know. But, man, I've only just come out of one battle and we are talking about another one.

“First let's recharge the batteries and then come again – and come to win.”

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